Before W was even a twinkle in our eye, Rob and I were very
career-oriented. We were throwing ourselves into our work and living
the typical young, urban lifestyle – work hard, play hard. Rob had just
scored a part-time position as a pediatric physical therapist. The
4-day, 21 hour workweek enabled him to pursue his true passion –
coaching youth soccer. I was well into my 10th year in advertising,
often working 50-60 hours/week.
We had planned on working hard at building our nest egg, while at the
same time enjoying the childless lifestyle that let us eat out several
times a week, attend spontaneous after-work get-togethers, and embark
on weekend getaways… ah! Good times. We didn’t know it then, but it was
only going to get better.
SAHM? SAHD? Or ESP?
When we found out I was pregnant, Rob and I agreed we did not want W in
daycare fulltime if one of us could be home with him. I was the primary
breadwinner in our family, so it was looking like Rob would be a
stay-at-home Dad. Admittedly, there was a twinge of guilt, maybe even
jealousy, when I thought about Rob taking on this role. But at the
time, it seemed to make the most sense.
But it was soon after W was born and I returned to work when I realized
I was burnt out at my job. Work was just not fun any longer and the
long hours and added stress were more than I could handle. We decided
instead that I would stay home with our new baby and Rob would be the
sole breadwinner. This was a really tough decision. Fortunately we had
enough in our savings to make it work, at least for a little while.
So we became a single-income family so that I could stay home with W.
But we quickly found that I didn’t quite fit the SAHM label. With Rob’s
flexible work schedule, we realized that we could both share in raising
W from the beginning. We saw the benefits of having both of us around
to raise W and take care of the house. And we knew that our
single-income family structure wasn’t going to work for us on one
part-time physical therapist’s salary plus a soccer coach’s salary for
Equally Shared Parenting –And We
Didn’t Even Know It!
After putting much stress on our finances by living on just Rob’s
part-time income for a year, I parlayed a freelance gig as a project
manager into a part-time job of my own minutes from our house. I was
able to negotiate a 4-day, 32-hour work week, which would allow me to
have Fridays off with W. Rob’s schedule remained the same, which
allowed him to have Wednesdays with W. We then made daycare
arrangements for W for the other three workdays.
It wasn’t before long we were truly sharing breadwinning, housework and
childraising. Neither of us felt the stress of being the primary
breadwinner any longer. When it came to housework, we each agreed for
each of us would take on one chore we both dreaded – I cleaned the
bathroom and Rob paid the bills. All other chores were taken up
equally; whoever had time to tackle a task first would be responsible
for getting it done.
Taking care of W became like clockwork with our work schedules. Rob and
W had their dad/son time on Wednesdays, W and I would do our thing on
Fridays, and during the soccer off-season, we spent the weekends
together as a family. And as we did even before W was born, we were
very conscious about giving one another equal leisure time (either much
needed alone or guy/girl time respectively).
We made this shift to equal sharing mostly unconsciously, following
what seemed to work best and feel right. We didn’t set out to do
something unusual, but we began to realize that our situation was
pretty unique among our circle of friends. We had something special and
there was no turning back.
Our Top 3 Tips for Making ESP
We’re about a year into Equally Shared Parenting now and we’ve made
lots of sacrifices along the way – a dinner out is a special treat and
a dinner and a movie is a big deal these days. We’ve had our share of
chats on topics from “who’s going to go food shopping this week” to
“why does W behave that way with you on Wednesdays but this way with me
on Fridays?”. It’s an organic process, and along the way, we’ve learned
a couple things we want to pass along to other couples who are finding
ways to make ESP work:
1. Learn to let go. I
think every working Mom tries to be the “supermom” – balancing a career
with being a mother. I often find myself trying to do everything, but
have learned to let go and ask Rob to take over his share. And to trust
that however he chooses to manage a task (from shopping for a birthday
present to taking our child to the doctor’s), it’s going to be just
fine. This is fundamental to making ESP work.
2. Be flexible. There
will inevitably be times when things are not exactly equal and one
partner is forced to pick up the other’s slack. In our case, when
soccer season is in full swing and Rob’s soccer obligations mean late
nights and weekend-long tournaments, housework and childcare will make
a big shift onto my shoulders. It’s important not to get too resentful
and know that the situation is usually temporary. And we find ways to
make it up later.
3. Taking care of yourself
= a better parent. A happy parent often means a happy
home. It’s important to do things for yourself that make you happy. For
us, it’s about making time for a workout, a guy’s or girl’s night out,
or a date night. Often it will take prodding from each other to do
something for ourselves, but a little prodding can go a long way.
We now realize we’ve landed on something pretty good – where we both
can play an equal part in W’s life, share housework duties, be engaged
in work that we can enjoy, and never lose sight of ourselves as
individuals. It will be hard to try to live any other lifestyle.
We hope other couples can find a way to experience the benefits of ESP
©Copyright 2007 Marc and Amy